Way to Go Part 2: Mastering Go Syntax

Way to Go Part 2: Mastering Go Syntax

By Mark Volkmann, OCI Partner and Principal Software Engineer

January 2019

This article is the second in a multi-part series on the Go programming language. It provides details on the syntax of the language. The first article in the series provides an overview of the language and a quick-start guide.

Future articles will cover the Go standard library, concurrency, reflection, solutions to common tasks, modules, testing, and the future of Go.


A Go source file contains a package clause, followed by zero or more import declarations, followed by zero or more package-level declarations. Package clauses and import declarations are described in the next two sections.

A package-level declaration is a declaration of a package constant, variable, type, function, or method. All of these begin with a keyword which is one of const, var, type, or func. These declarations can appear in any order. They are the only statements that can appear outside of functions. This precludes use of the := operator and non-declaration statements, like if and for, outside of functions.

Types follow variable and parameter names, separated by a space. For example, var score int.

Semicolons are not required, but can be used to place multiple statements on the same line. However, the gofmt code formatting tool will place each statement on a separate line and remove semicolons.


All Go code resides in some package.

Each source file must begin with a package clause that is the keyword "package" followed by a package name. The package name must match the name of the directory that holds the file, unless the package name is main. This defines a namespace for the names it defines. For example, if a directory named astronomy contains the file planets.go, the first non-comment line in the file should be package astronomy.

A package is defined by a collection of Go source files in a single directory. The source files that define a package can have any file name that ends in .go.

All names defined in a package are visible in all source files of the package. Exported names of a package start with an uppercase letter and are visible in source files of other packages that import the package. Unexported names start with a lowercase letter and are not visible in the source files of other packages.

Go convention is for package names to be all lowercase without underscores or hyphens. This precludes the use of camelcase names.

The main function is the starting point of all Go applications and must defined in a source file that starts with package main.

Changing a package name requires renaming the directory and modifying the package statement in all the files that define it. Editorial: It seems Go missed an opportunity to infer the package name from the directory name.


An import statement imports all the exported names in given packages. The imported names are available in the source file containing the import statement, but are not automatically available in other source files of the same package. It is not possible to import just a subset of the names exported by a given package.

To import one package, import "pkgName".

To import multiple packages,

  1. import (
  2. "pkgName1"
  3. "pkgName2"
  4. ...
  5. )

Unused imports are treated as errors and some tools automatically remove them. This avoids accumulating imports that are no longer needed as the code is modified.

An alternate name for a package name can be defined with import altName "pkgName". Note that the alternate name is not surrounded by quotes, but the package name is. When an alternate name is defined, exported names in the package must be referenced with altName.ExportedName instead of pkgName.ExportedName.

The full name used to import a package is referred to as its "import path". These are slash-separated names. For standard library packages, the import path is a simple name such as "strings" or "math/rand". For community packages, the import path is the package URL without the scheme portion and the double-slashes that follow it. For example, to import the package at <https://github.com/julienschmidt/httprouter> use import "github.com/julienschmidt/httprouter". This binds the short name httprouter so it can be used for accessing the names exported by the package.

Refer to the names exported by an imported package by preceding them with the package name followed by a period, for example, httprouter.ResponseWriter. It is not possible to add the exported names to the current namespace to avoid using the pkgName. prefix.

Packages used by an application or by other packages are not required to have unique names, but their import paths must be unique. For example, the import paths alpha/one and beta/one can coexist even though the package name for both is one. However, to use both in the same source file, one of them must be given an alternate name.

Circular imports where an import triggers the import of the current package are treated as errors.

Package Initialization

Initialization of package-level variables that require logic, not just literal values or results of function calls, must be done in init functions. These have no parameters and no return value.

A package can have any number of init functions in any of its source files. These functions are run in the order they appear and alphabetically by source file name within a package.

The init functions of all imported packages are run before those of the package that imports them. All init functions of all imported packages are run before the main function of an application is run.


Names for variables, types, functions, methods, and parameters must begin with a unicode letter and can contain unicode letters, unicode digits, and underscores.

Go convention is for multi-word names to use camelcase and for acronyms in them to have all their letters in the same case. For example, xmlHTTPRequest.

The golint tool requires some well-known acronyms in names to use the same case for all their letters. These include ASCII, HTML, ID, JSON, URL, and XML.


Comments in Go use the same syntax as C.

Multi-line comments use /* ... */. These cannot be nested. They are primarily used for the comment at the top of a package and to temporarily comment out sections of code.

Single-line comments use // .... These are used for all other kinds of comments, even those preceding functions.

A single-line comment should precede each exported declaration. These are used by the go doc and godoc tools to generate documentation.

Zero Values

Every type has a "zero value" which is the value it takes on when it is not initialized. This means that all variables have a value.

The table below mentions "slices". These are described in detail in the "Slices" section. For now think of a slice as an array with a variable length. Arrays in Go have a fixed length.

TypeZero Value
bool false
all numeric types 0
rune (single character) 0
string ""
array array of proper length where all elements have their zero value
slice empty slice with length 0 and capacity 0
map empty map
struct struct where all fields have their zero value
pointers & all other types nil


Variable Characteristics

Variables in Go are mutable unless primitive and defined with const.

Variables are block-scoped within functions, so those in inner scopes can shadow those in outer scopes.

Package-level variables are local to the package unless their name starts with an uppercase letter.

Go distinguishes between declaring, initializing, and assigning variables.

Package-level Variables

Variables that are declared outside of functions (package-level) must be declared with a var statement. This accepts a type, an initial value, or both. The initial value can be any expression that yields a value of the desired type. Examples include:

  1. var name string // defaults to zero value for the type (empty string)
  2. var name = "Mark" // inferred type is string
  3. var name string = "Mark"

While both a type and initial value can be provided, that is usually redundant since the type can be inferred from the value. Some editor plugins/extensions will warn about this.

When no type is specified, the largest matching type is assumed. For example, in var n = 3 the type will be int and in var n = 1.2 the type will be float64.

Package-level variables have package scope which means they are accessible in all source files of the package. They are never garbage collected and so are available for the entire life of the application in which they are used.

Multiple variables can be declared in one var statement. For example:

  1. var name, age = "Mark", 57 // must initialize all
  2. var ( // use parens to spread over multiple lines
  3. name string = "Mark"
  4. age number // not initialized, so uses zero value
  5. )

When multiple consecutive variables have the same type, the type can be omitted from all but the last. For example, these lines are equivalent:

  1. var n1 string, n2 string, a1 int8, a2 int8, a3 int8
  2. var n1, n2 string, a1, a2, a3 int8

Variables in Functions

Variables that are declared inside a function are local to that function.

There are two ways to declare variables inside a function. One is to use a var statement just like when outside a function. Another is to use the short variable declaration operator := which does not allow a type to be specified and instead infers it from the value on the right. For example, name := "Mark".

Inside function definitions the var form of assignment tends to only be used for two reasons. The first is when when a variable needs to be declared, but not yet assigned a non-zero value. The second is when the desired type differs from what would be inferred from the initializer. For example, in the following declaration the type of the variable n would be int rather than int8 if it was not specified: var n int8 = 19.

Multiple variables can be declared with one := operator. For example, name, age := "Mark", 57. An initializer must be supplied for each variable.

It is an error to attempt to declare a variable that has already been declared, whether with a var statement or the := operator.

Variables that have already been declared can be assigned new values with the = operator. For example, name = "Tami".

Multiple variables can be assigned with one = operator. For example, name, age = "Tami", 56. This can also be used to swap values. For example, x, y = y, x. This works with any number of variables. For example, x, y, z = y, z, 0 assigns the current value of y to x, the current value of z to y, and zero to z.

It is an error to attempt to assign to a variable that has not been declared.

There is an exception to the rule that existing variables cannot be re-declared. As long as at least one variable on the left of := has not yet been declared, the other variables can already exist. A common use case is when the variable err is used to capture possible errors from a function call. For example, as long as the variable bytes has not been previously declared the following statement is valid even if err has been previously declared.

  1. bytes, err := ioutil.ReadFile("haiku.txt")

Multiple Return Values

Functions can return any number of values. The result can be assigned to the same number of variables. For example, if getBounds is a function that returns two values, min, max := getBounds(points) is a valid statement.

Sometimes the caller is only interested in a subset of the return values. The "blank identifier" _ can be used to discard specific return values. For example, _, max := getBounds(points).


Go constants are defined using the const keyword. They must be initialized to a primitive literal or an expression that can be computed at compile-time and results in a primitive value. For example, const HOT = 100.

Non-primitive types such as arrays, slices, structs, and maps cannot be declared with const.

Like with var, a type can be specified. This is useful when the desired type differs from what would be inferred. For example, const HOT float64 = 100.

When a constant type is not specified the constant is "untyped". This allows them to be used in many expressions without explicit conversions. For example, int and float64 values cannot be multiplied without converting one of the values to the other type.

  1. value := 4.5 // type is float64
  2. const times1 = 3 // type is untyped integer
  3. good := value * times1 // allowed
  4. times2 := 3 // type is int
  5. bad := value * times2 // not allowed

For more on untyped constants, see <https://blog.golang.org/constants>.


Go supports the following operators:

  • arithmetic: +, -, *, /, % (mod)
  • arithmetic assignment: +=, -=, *=, /=, %=
  • increment: ++
  • decrement: --
  • assignment: = (existing variable), := (new variable)
  • comparison: ==, !=, <, <=, >, >=
    • Arrays are compared by comparing their elements if they are comparable.
    • Structs are compared by comparing their fields if they are comparable.
    • Slices, maps, and functions are not comparable, so cannot be compared using these operators.
  • logical: && (and), || (or), ! (not)
  • bitwise: &, |, ^ (xor), &^ (bit clear)
  • bitwise assignment: &=, |=, ^=, &^=
  • bit shift: <<, >>
  • bit shift assignment: <<=, >>=
  • channel direction: <-
  • variadic parameter: paramName ...paramType
  • slice spread: sliceName...
  • pointer creation: &varName
  • pointer dereference: *pointerName
  • block delimiters: { }
  • expression grouping: ( )
  • function call: fnName(args)
  • array or slice index: arr[index]
  • map value: map[key]
  • struct member reference: structName.memberName
  • statement separator: ;
  • array element separator: ,
  • label definition: someLabel: (see goto keyword)

The increment (++) and decrement (--) operators can only be used as postfix operators. They form statements, not expressions. This means they cannot be used in assignment statements. For example, var j = i++ is not allowed.

The and (&&) and or (||) operators short-circuit like in most programming languages. This means that if the result is known by only evaluating the left expression, the right expression is not evaluated.

Go does not include an exponentiation operator. Use the standard library function math.Pow(base, exponent) function for this.

Go also does not include a ternary operator. It prefers using an if statement which some feel is more clear, despite being more verbose.


The Go language has 25 keywords which is less than most languages. This contributes to Go being easy to learn. These keywords cannot be used as the names of variables, functions, methods, parameters, interfaces, or types. The keywords supported by Go include the following, each of which is described in more detail later:

  • break - breaks out of a for loop, select, or switch
  • case - used in a select or switch
  • chan - channel type for communicating between goroutines
  • const - declares a constant
  • continue - advances to the next iteration of a for loop
  • default - the default case in a select or switch
  • defer - defers execution of a given function until the containing function exits
  • else - part of an if
  • fallthrough - used as last statement in a case to execute code in next case
  • for - the only loop syntax; C-style (init, condition, and post) or just a condition
  • func - defines a named or anonymous function or method
  • go - precedes a function call to execute it asynchronously in a goroutine
  • goto - jumps to a given label (see : operator)
  • if - for conditional logic; also see else
  • import - imports all exported symbols in given packages
  • interface - defines a set of methods; typically used to define a type with which all implementing types are compatible
  • map - collection of key/value pairs where keys and values can have any specified type
  • package - specifies the package to which the current source file belongs
  • range - used in a for loop to iterate over a string, array, slice, map, or receiving channel
  • return - terminates the containing function and returns zero or more values
  • select - chooses from a set of channel send or receive operations
  • struct - collection of fields that each have a specific type
  • switch - alternative to if for choosing a block of code to execute based on an expression or type
  • type - creates an alias for another type; often used to give a name to a struct, interface, or function signature
  • var - defines a variable and its type, initial value, or both

There are additional predeclared names that are not reserved, but using them in other contexts could be confusing. These include the names of primitive types (such as int and string), the names of built-in functions (such as append, delete, make, and range), and constants (true, false, iota, and nil).


Pointers hold the address of a value. When not set, their value is nil.

Pointer types begin with an asterisk. *Type is the type for a pointer to a value of type Type.

To obtain a pointer to a variable value, use the & operator. For example, myPtr := &myVar. It is not possible to obtain the address of a constant value.

To create a value and get a pointer to it in one statement, myPtr := new(type). Another way to do this which is preferred by many is to first create a variable to hold the value and then get a pointer to it. For example, var myThing ThingType; myPtr := &myThing. Interestingly the assembly code generated for these two approaches is identical.

To obtain the value at a pointer, myValue = *myPtr.

To modify the value at a pointer, *myPtr = newValue.

Pointer arithmetic, as seen in C and C++, is not supported in Go. This avoids memory safety issues and simplifies the built-in garbage collector.

Function parameters are passed by value, so passing a pointer to a variable is required to allow a function to modify the variable.

Memory Allocation

The Go specification does not indicate the situations under which stack memory or heap memory are used. The primary Go implementation makes some choices based on the fact that allocating on the stack is generally faster than allocating on the heap.

The built-in new function always allocates on the heap.

Variables declared in functions are typically allocated on the stack unless access to them escapes from the function by returning a pointer to it or setting a variable declared outside the function to a pointer to the variable.


Writing to stdout and stderr is supported by the "fmt" package. The Println method writes expression values to stdout. Each output value is separated from the next by a single space. A newline character is written after the last expression. For example:

  1. fmt.Println(expr1, expr2)

The Printf function also writes to stdout. It uses a format string similar to the C printf function. For example:

  1. fmt.Printf("%s is %d years old.\n", name, age)


In if statements, parentheses are not needed around the condition being tested. If parentheses are included, the gofmt tool will remove them.

Braces are required around the statements to be executed when the condition is true.

An else block is optional. When present, braces are required around the statements to be executed when the condition is false.

For example:

  1. if x > 7 {
  2. ...
  3. } else {
  4. ...
  5. }

Almost any single statement can precede the condition, separated from it by a semicolon. However, typically an assignment statement is used. The scope of the assigned variables are the if block, including the else block if present. For example:

  1. if y := x * 2; y < 10 {
  2. ...
  3. }


The switch statement in Go is similar to that in other languages, but it can switch on expressions of any type. Braces around the body are required.

Case values can be literal values or expressions. The case keyword can be followed by any number of comma-separated expressions. Matching any of them causes the statements for that case to be executed. Case blocks do not fall through to the next by default so unlike in many other languages, break statements are not used. If it is desirable to fall through, use the fallthrough keyword at the end of a case block.

A basic switch statement looks like the following:

  1. switch name {
  2. case "Mark":
  3. // handle Mark
  4. case "Tami":
  5. // handle Tami
  6. case "Amanda", "Jeremy":
  7. // handle Amanda or Jeremy
  8. default:
  9. // handle all other names
  10. }

Braces are only needed around the statements in a case to introduce a new scope for variables that are only used by that case.

A switch statement can include an initialization statement just like an if statement. For example:

  1. switch name := buildName(person); name {
  2. ...
  3. }

but then the name would not be available for use inside the switch.

A switch statement with no expression executes the first case block whose expression evaluates to true. This is referred to as a "tagless switch". For example:

  1. switch {
  2. case name == "Mark":
  3. // handle Mark
  4. case age < 20:
  5. // handle youngsters
  6. default:
  7. // handle all other cases
  8. }

The variable theType will hold the actual type. theType := can be omitted if not needed. If the value of expression is an interface type, theType will be set to the actual type that implements the interface.


The for statement is the only looping statement in Go. The syntax is for init; cond; post { ... }. No parentheses are allowed around the the init, cond, and post portions. The three parts are separated by semicolons. The init and post parts, if present, must be single statements, but multiple variables can be assigned in a single statement. Braces around the body are required.

The break and continue keywords can be used inside the body. break without a label exits the inner-most loop. continue skips the remainder of the body and continues at the top of the loop, testing the condition again.

For example:

  1. for i := 0; i < 10; i++ {
  2. ...
  3. }

When the init and post parts are omitted and only the condition is present, the semicolons can be omitted.

A while loop in other languages looks like the following in Go:

  1. for i < 10 {
  2. ...
  3. }

For an endless loop, omit the condition as follows:

  1. for {
  2. ...
  3. }

The range keyword is often used in for loops to iterate over string characters, elements of arrays and slices, and map key/value pairs. Examples of these appear later.


Go strings are immutable sequences of bytes representing UTF-8 characters. Literal values are delimited with double quotes or back quotes.

An example of declaring and initializing a string inside a function is name := "Mark".

When back quotes are used, they are called "raw string literals". These can include newline characters and characters escaped with backslashes (such as \n for newline and \t for tab) are not processed. This makes them ideal for writing regular expressions and HTML templates which sometimes contain backslashes.

  1. message1 := `Hello World!
  2. This is a
  3. Go program.`
  4. message2 := "Hello World!\nThis is a\nGo program."

To get the length of a string in bytes, use the len function. For example, using the variable name defined above, len(name) returns 4.

If the string contains any multi-byte UTF-8 characters, the len function does not return the number of characters. To get the length of a string in UTF-8 characters, use the unicode/utf8 package. For example, utf8.RuneCountInString(name).

To retrieve a byte from a string, use square brackets. For example, char := name[index]. Attempting to retrieve a byte at an index beyond the end triggers a panic, which is a runtime error that typically causes the application to terminate (see the "Error Handling" section for more detail).

To retrieve a UTF-8 character as a rune, use the unicode/utf8 package. For example, r, size := utf8.DecodeRuneInString(name[i:]). i is the byte index of the start of the character. r is set to the rune. size is the number of bytes in the rune which can be used to compute i for the next character.

To iterate over the UTF-8 characters in a string, use a for loop with the range keyword. For example, for index, char := range name { ... }. Replace index with the blank identifier _ if it is not needed.

To create a new string that is a substring of an existing string, specify the starting (inclusive) and ending (exclusive) indexes in square brackets separated by a colon. For example, name[m:n] gets the characters from index m to just before index n, name[m:] gets characters from m to the end, name[:n] gets characters from the beginning to just before n, and name[:] gets all the characters.

For efficiency, substrings share memory with the original string rather than copying bytes. This is safe because strings are immutable.

While strings are immutable, variables that hold them can be assigned a different string. For example, the following is valid: name = name[:3].

To create a new string by concatenating a string to another, use the + and += operators.

The string type has no methods. The standard library package strings provides many functions for operating on strings. Many of these will be described in a future article on the Go standard library. For example, the following code splits a string on whitespace characters and prints each word on a separate line:

  1. s := "This is a test."
  2. words := strings.Fields(s)
  3. for _, word := range words {
  4. fmt.Println(word) // outputs "This", "is", "a", and "test."
  5. }


The type keyword defines a new type. It does not define an alias for an existing type.

For example type score int defines the type score, but it cannot be used interchangeably with the type int.

  1. type score int
  2. var s score = 1
  3. var i int = 2
  4. sum := s + i // invalid operation - mismatched types

Type names can be used as functions that convert a value that has the same underlying type to that type. For example, the invalid operation above can be corrected with:

  1. sum : = s + score(i) // works!

Type names can also be used as functions to convert between numeric types, which is useful since math operations such as addition require matching types. For example:

  1. a := 1 // int
  2. b := 2.3 // float64
  3. fmt.Println(float64(a) + b) // 3.3
  4. fmt.Println(a + int(b)) // truncates b resulting in 1 + 2 = 3

The type keyword is most often used to define a type for a struct, slice type, map type, interface, or function signature. This avoids repeating long type definitions.

Type names must start with an uppercase letter to make them accessible (exported) outside the current package.

The operations supported by a named type include all those supported by the underlying type. This means that the score type above can be used in all the same ways that an int can be used, but not in place of an int.

Methods can be added to named types. These are described later.


A struct is a collection of fields defined with the struct keyword. Field values can have any type, including other structs nested to any depth. A struct cannot inherit from another struct, but can utilize composition of structs.

Struct fields whose names start with an uppercase letter (exported) are visible in other packages that import the package that defines the struct. Otherwise fields are only visible in the package that defines the struct.

It is often desirable to define a type for a struct to make it easy to refer to in variable and parameter declarations. Otherwise the struct is anonymous and can only be referred to where it is defined.

Here is an example of using an anonymous struct.

  1. me := struct{
  2. name string
  3. age int8
  4. }{
  5. "Mark",
  6. 57,
  7. }

Creating a type name makes the code easier to understand and make the struct definition reusable. For example:

  1. type Person struct {
  2. name string
  3. age int8
  4. }

A struct literal creates an instance of a struct. Field values can be specified in any order by also providing corresponding keys. For example:

  1. p1 := Person{name: "Mark", age: 57}

Struct fields can also be initialized by providing only values in the order in which they are listed in the struct definition. But this option can only be used within the same package that defines the struct type. It is best to only use this approach for structs with a small number of fields because changes to the field order will break these initializations. For example:

  1. p2 := Person{"Mark", 57}

The dot operator is used to get and set fields within a struct. For example:

  1. fmt.Println(p1.name) // Mark
  2. p1.age++
  3. fmt.Println(p1.age) // 58

There is no syntax for accessing a field of a struct whose name is held in a variable. However, the reflection API can be used to do this. The standard library package reflect will be covered in detail in a future article.

Here is a function that uses the reflect package to get the value or a struct field whose name can be determined at runtime.

  1. // StructFieldValue returns the value of a given field in a struct.
  2. // The type "interface{}" means that any type can be used.
  3. // See the "Empty Interface" section later.
  4. func StructFieldValue(aStruct interface{}, fieldName string) reflect.Value {
  5. value := reflect.ValueOf(aStruct)
  6. if value.Kind() != reflect.Struct {
  7. log.Fatalf("StructFieldValue first argument must be a struct")
  8. }
  9. return value.FieldByName(fieldName)
  10. }

The type reflect.Value has many methods for obtaining the value as a specific built-in type. For example:

  1. // address is struct that describes a mailing address.
  2. city := StructFieldValue(address, "city").String()
  3. zip := StructFieldValue(address, "zip").Int()

The fmt.Printf function takes a format string that can contain "verbs". The "%v" verb is useful during debugging for printing values of any type, including structs. Formatting strings are documented at https://golang.org/pkg/fmt/. For example:

  1. fmt.Printf("%v\n", p2) // just field values: {Mark 58}
  2. fmt.Printf("%+v\n", p2) // including field names: {name:Mark age:58}
  3. fmt.Printf("%#v\n", p2) // Go-syntax representation: main.person{name:"Mark", age:58}

There is no support for destructuring, like in JavaScript, to extract field values from a struct.

Struct fields can be accessed from a struct pointer without dereferencing the pointer. For example:

  1. personPtr := &p1
  2. fmt.Println((*personPtr).name) // Mark
  3. fmt.Println(personPtr.name) // same

If a struct field name is omitted, it is assumed to be the same as the type. For example:

  1. package main
  3. import (
  4. "fmt"
  5. "time"
  6. )
  8. func main() {
  9. type Age int
  11. type myType struct {
  12. Name string // named field
  13. Age // gets field name from the type defined above
  14. time.Month // gets field name from a library type
  15. }
  17. myStruct := myType{Name: "Mark", Age: 7, Month: time.April}
  18. fmt.Printf("%#v\n", myStruct) // main.myType{Name:"Mark", Age:7, Month:4}
  19. }

To embed a struct type within another, precede the type name with a field name or include just the type name to get a field with the same name. The second option is referred to as an "anonymous field". For example:

  1. type Address struct {
  2. Street string
  3. City string
  4. State string
  5. Zip string
  6. }
  8. type Person struct {
  9. Name string
  10. Address // anonymous field for home address
  11. WorkAddress Address // named field for work address
  12. }
  14. me := Person{
  15. Name: "Mark Volkmann",
  16. Address: Address{
  17. Street: "123 Some Street",
  18. City: "St. Charles",
  19. State: "MO",
  20. Zip: "63304", // comma is required here
  21. },
  22. WorkAddress: Address{
  23. Street: "123 Woodcrest Executive Drive",
  24. City: "Creve Coeur",
  25. State: "MO",
  26. Zip: "63141", // another required comma
  27. },
  28. }

When a nested struct is not given an explicit name, its fields can be accessed by either using the struct name or omitting it. For example:

  1. fmt.Println("home city is", me.Address.City) // St. Charles
  2. fmt.Println("home city is", me.City) // same
  3. fmt.Println("work city is", me.WorkAddress.City) // Creve Coeur; cannot omit workAddress.

Methods are described later. If the type of an anonymous field has methods, those become methods of the outer struct type as well. For example, if the Address type above has a Print method that prints the address in the format of a mailing label, that method can also be called on a Person object.

A struct cannot contain a field whose type is the same struct type, but it can contain a field that is a pointer to the same struct type. For example:

  1. type Node struct {
  2. value int
  3. next *Node
  4. }
  5. tail := Node{value: 20}
  6. head := Node{value: 10, next: &tail}
  7. fmt.Println(head.value) // 10
  8. fmt.Println(head.next.value) // 20

Structs can be compared using the == and != operators if all their field values are comparable. Such structs can be used as keys in maps.

When a struct is passed to a function, a copy is made and changes the function makes to its fields are not visible to the caller. For these reasons it is common to pass pointers to structs instead of structs.


Function Basics

Go functions are defined with the func keyword. The syntax for named functions is:

  1. func fnName(param1 type1, param2 type2, ...) (returnTypes) {
  2. ...
  3. }

Named functions must be declared at the package level, not nested inside other functions.

Anonymous functions have the same syntax, but omit the name. These can be used inside other functions. For example, func(v int) int { return v * 2 }.

Both named and anonymous functions are first-class values. This means they can be stored in variables, passed as arguments to other functions, and returned from other functions. For example, double := func(v int) int { return v * 2 }.

When a function is assigned to variable, it can be called using that variable. For example, fn := someFunction; fn().

If a variable with a function type is not assigned a value, it defaults to nil. If a call is made on a nil variable, a panic is triggered.

Function arguments are passed by value so copies are made of arrays, slices, and structs. To avoid creating copies of these and enable the function to make changes that are visible to the caller, pass and accept pointers.

Function Parameters

Functions cannot be overloaded based on their parameter types in order to create different implementations.

When consecutive parameters have the same type, the type can be omitted from all but the last. For example, func foo(p1 int, p2 int, p3 string, p4 string) is is equivalent to func foo(p1, p2 int, p3, p4 string).

It is not possible to specify default values for function parameters and they cannot be made optional. However, functions can accept a variable number of arguments. These are referred to as variadic functions.

Varidaic Functions

To define a variadic function, precede the type of the last named parameter with an ellipsis. When the function is called, behind the scenes an array is created to hold all the arguments after the initial ones and the last parameter is set to a slice over that array. For example:

  1. package main
  3. import (
  4. "fmt"
  5. "strings"
  6. )
  8. // The type "interface{}" means that any type can be used.
  9. // See the "Empty Interface" section later.
  10. func log(args ...interface{}) {
  11. fmt.Println(args...)
  12. }
  14. // This accepts a person's name followed by
  15. // any number of color names.
  16. func report(name string, colors ...string) {
  17. text := strings.Join(colors, " and ")
  18. fmt.Printf("%s likes the colors %s.\n", name, text)
  19. }
  21. func main() {
  22. log("red", 7, true) // red 7 true
  23. report("Mark", "yellow", "orange") // Mark likes the colors yellow and orange.
  24. }

If the values to be passed to a variadic function are already in a variable that holds a slice, follow the variable name with an ellipsis to pass the values as separate arguments. If they are in an array, first create a slice over it. For example, the following can be added to the end of the main function above:

  1. // This must match the parameter type of the log function
  2. // rather than be a slice of strings.
  3. args := []interface{}{"red", 7, true}
  4. log(args...)
  6. // The initial arguments before the variadic one
  7. // must be passed separately.
  8. colors := []string{"yellow", "orange"}
  9. report("Mark", colors...)

Function Return Values

Functions can return zero or more values. When there are no return values, the list of return types is omitted. When there is one return value, its type is provided, but parentheses around it are optional and typically omitted. When there are multiple return values, the types must be surrounded by parentheses and separated by commas.

When calling a function, all return values must be captured in variables. The blank identifier _ can be used to capture unneeded return values.

  1. // This takes a "slice" of int values and returns
  2. // their sum as an int and their average as a float64.
  3. func GetStats(numbers []int) (int, float64) {
  4. sum := 0
  5. for _, number := range numbers {
  6. sum += number
  7. }
  8. average := float64(sum) / float64(len(numbers))
  9. return sum, average
  10. }
  12. // In some other function
  13. scores := []int{1, 3, 4, 7}
  14. sum, avg := GetStats(scores)
  15. // Do something with sum and avg.

A common use of returning multiple values from a function is to return a result and a value that either describes an error or is a boolean that indicates whether the function was successful. Using a boolean is preferred when there is only one way the function can fail.

For example, the ReadFile function in the io/ioutil standard library package takes a file path and returns a byte array and an error description.

  1. bytes, err := ioutil.ReadFile("haiku.txt")
  2. if err != nil {
  3. log.Fatal(err)
  4. }
  5. // Do something with bytes.

A function call can appear as the only argument in another function call. The return values become the actual arguments to the outer call. For example:

  1. // Pass the two return values from GetStats to Println.
  2. fmt.Println(GetStats(scores));

Function return types can have associated names that become local variables inside the function. This enables "naked" (a.k.a. "bare") returns where a return with no specified values will return the values of variables with the given names. For example:

  1. func mult(n int) (times2, times3 int) {
  2. times2 = n * 2
  3. times3 = n * 3
  4. //return times2 times3 // don't need to specify return values
  5. return
  6. }
  8. // In some other function
  9. n2, n3 := mult(3) // n2 is 6 and n3 is 9

Unless the function is very short, using naked returns is frowned upon because the code is less readable than explicitly returning values.

Function Types

Functions have a type that is defined by their signature. This is based on the order and type of the parameters and the order of the return types. The function name, parameter names, and any return value names are not part of the signature.

Function types can be important when passing functions to or returning functions from another function.

It is sometimes useful to define a type for a function signature to avoid repeating a long definition. For example:

  1. package main
  3. import "fmt"
  5. // This type matches any function that
  6. // takes two float64 arguments and returns a float64.
  7. type CalculateFn func(float64, float64) float64
  9. func product(a float64, b float64) float64 {
  10. return a * b
  11. }
  13. // This function takes a function as its third argument.
  14. func process(m float64, n float64, fn CalculateFn) float64 {
  15. return fn(m, n)
  16. }
  18. func main() {
  19. fmt.Println("result =", process(2, 3, product)) // 6
  20. }


Most languages use a fixed-size stack that limits the depth of recursive calls. Generally programs crash when they exceed this.

Go uses a variable-size stack that grows as needed. This allows Go functions to support a higher recursive depth than most languages without crashing.

The maximum stack size for 64-bit systems is 1GB by default. This can be modified by calling the SetMaxStack function in the runtime/debug standard library package.


Functions act as closures over all in-scope variables. This allows nested, anonymous functions to retain access to and modify variables that are in the scope of their definition.

Typically the lifetime of a variable declared inside a function is the duration of a call to that function. However, the fact that functions are closures creates an exception to this. For example:

  1. func closureDemo() func() {
  2. // The lifetime of this variable is the lifetime
  3. // of the function returned by this function.
  4. secret := "Don't tell!"
  5. return func () {
  6. fmt.Println(secret); // captures local variable secret
  7. }
  8. }
  10. func main() {
  11. fn := closureDemo();
  12. fn(); // Don't tell!
  13. }


Method Basics

Methods are functions that are invoked on a "receiver" value. They can be associated with any named type that is not a pointer or interface. The receiver is an instance of this type. Methods cannot be associated with built-in types.

Methods are particularly useful for types that implement interfaces. Otherwise we can just write functions that take a value of the type as an argument.

One benefit of defining a method on a type instead of defining a function that takes an argument of the type is that the name can be shorter without losing meaning. For example, we can add a getAge method to a Person type or we can define a getPersonAge function that takes a Person. The difference is even more significant for calls made from another package because in that case function names must be prefixed with the package name whereas method names do not.

Just like functions, methods whose name starts with a lowercase letter can only be called by code in package where the method is defined. To make them available in other packages, their names must start with an uppercase letter.

The syntax for defining a method is func (receiver-info) name(parameter-list) (return-types) { body }.

Note that there are three pairs of parentheses. If the method has no return type, or it has only one and it is unnamed, the last pair of parentheses can be omitted.

In most programming languages that support methods, the method body refers to the receiver using a keyword like this or self. In Go the method signature specifies the name by which the receiver will be referenced.

receiver-info is a name followed by the instance type for the method. Often the receiver name is the lowercase first letter of its type. For example, if the receiver type is Person then the receiver name is p.

Method Restrictions

Methods must defined in a source file for the same package that defines their receiver type.

If an attempt is made to add a method to a built-in type an error with the message "cannot define new methods on non-local type" will be triggered.

When a type has multiple methods, the golint tool wants all the receivers to have the same name.

It is not possible to create overloaded methods on a type to create different implementations for different parameter types. Methods are distinguished only by the receiver type and their name.

Method Example

The following code adds a method to the Person type. Note how the receiver and its type appear in parentheses before the method name.

  1. func (p *Person) Birthday() {
  2. p.age++
  3. }

To call a method, specify the receiver, followed by a dot, the method name, and the argument list. For example:

  1. p := Person{name: "Mark", age: 57}
  2. (&p).Birthday() // The method can be invoked on a pointer to a Person.
  3. p.Birthday() // It can also be invoked on a Person.
  4. fmt.Printf("%#v\n", p) // main.Person{name:"Mark", age:59}

In the previous example the receiver is a pointer to a struct. This allows the method to modify the struct and avoids making a copy of the struct when it is invoked. When the receiver is a type value and not a pointer to a type value the method receives a copy and cannot modify the original.

Method Definition Location

It may seem that struct methods should be defined inside the struct. However, the ability to define methods outside the type definition is required in order to add methods to non-struct types. So Go chooses to only support this approach for all types.

Methods With Pointer Receivers

When a function has a parameter with a pointer type, it must be passed a pointer. However, when a method has a pointer receiver, it can be invoked on a pointer to a value or a value. When invoked on a value, it will automatically use a pointer to the value as the receiver.

Go convention is that if any method for a type has a pointer receiver, all of them should. However, golint does not complain if this convention is violated.

Methods that have a pointer receiver can choose to handle nil as a receiver value. For example, a method that operates on a linked list and expects the receiver to be a pointer to the head can check for nil and return some reasonable value.

Methods On Primitive Types

Recall that the underlying type of a named type can be a primitive type. Here is an example of adding a method to a named type with an underlying type of int.

  1. type Number int
  3. func (receiver Number) Double() Number {
  4. return receiver * 2
  5. }
  7. n := Number(3) // or could use var n Number = 3
  8. fmt.Println(n.Double()) // 6

Struct Method Promotion

When a struct type A is embedded in another struct type B, methods on A can be called on B. This works because the methods from type A are promoted to type B. However, this does not mean that values of type B can be used anywhere values of type A can be used. A and B are still distinct types and there is no implied type hierarchy.

Ambiguous Selectors

If all of the following occur, an "ambiguous selector" error is triggered at compile-time.

  1. Multiple struct types are embedded in another struct A.
  2. More than one of the embedded struct types has a method B.
  3. An instance of A is created.
  4. A call to method B on this instance is made.
  1. package main
  3. import "fmt"
  5. type Foo struct {
  6. }
  8. func (f Foo) DoIt() {
  9. fmt.Println("Foo: DoIt entered")
  10. }
  12. type Bar struct {
  13. }
  15. func (b Bar) DoIt() {
  16. fmt.Println("Bar: DoIt entered")
  17. }
  19. // This struct embeds the two previous structs.
  20. type Baz struct {
  21. Foo
  22. Bar
  23. }
  25. func main() {
  26. myBaz := Baz{}
  27. myBaz.DoIt() // ambiguous selector
  28. }

Method Values

A method call combines selecting a method on the receiver type and binding it to the receiver. When the parentheses and arguments are omitted, the expression evaluates to a function that represents the method bound to the receiver. This function is called a "method value" and can be called later with arguments.

  1. package main
  3. import (
  4. "fmt"
  5. "math"
  6. )
  8. type Point struct {
  9. x float64
  10. y float64
  11. }
  13. // Distance returns the distance from
  14. // the receiver point to a given Point.
  15. func (p Point) Distance(p2 Point) float64 {
  16. return math.Sqrt(math.Pow(p.x - p2.x, 2) + math.Pow(p.y - p2.y, 2))
  17. }
  19. func main() {
  20. p1 := Point{1, 2}
  21. p2 := Point{4, 6}
  23. // Normal call
  24. fmt.Println(p1.Distance(p2)) // 5
  26. // Obtain a method value and call it.
  27. distanceFromP1 := p1.Distance
  28. fmt.Println(distanceFromP1(p2)) // 5
  29. }

Method Expressions

A "method expression" is a type name is followed by a dot and a method name. This evaluates to a function whose first argument is treated as the method receiver and remaining arguments are treated as the method arguments. For example:

  1. // Obtain a method expression can call it.
  2. distanceBetweenPoints := Point.Distance
  3. fmt.Println(distanceBetweenPoints(p1, p2)) // 5

Struct Field Encapsulation

Access to struct fields can be encapsulated by using names that start with a lowercase letter and adding methods that operate on the fields.

Encapsulation has many benefits. It prevents code that uses the fields from relying on implementation details that may change later. It can prevent code that uses the fields from setting field values incorrectly. It reduces the amount of code that must be examined to determine where a value is being set incorrectly.

Encapsulation is overkill in many cases. It should be avoided when the type of a field is unlikely to change, using code is unlikely to set it to invalid values, and non-setter/getter methods directly set and get the field.

Go has a naming convention for methods that get and set data. "Setter" method names start with "Set", but "getter" method names typically do not start with "Get". For example, methods to set and get the birthday of a person might be named SetBirthday and Birthday.

Suppose we want to encapsulate access to the birthday of a person and use it to calculate their age based on the current date.

The package encapsulation below defines a Person type and exports a NewPerson function that creates a Person object. It also adds methods to the Person type to get their age, birthday as a time.Time object, and formatted birthday string.

  1. package encapsulation
  3. import (
  4. "time"
  5. )
  7. // The "reference time" for time format strings
  8. // is "Mon Jan 2 15:04:05 MST 2006".
  9. // Format strings are built using these specific values
  10. // and variations on them.
  11. // For more detail, see the comments at https://golang.org/src/time/format.go.
  12. // The following is a date format string that is passed to the Time Format method.
  13. const dateFormat = "January 2, 2006"
  15. // Person describes a person.
  16. type Person struct {
  17. Name string // exported
  18. birthday time.Time // encapsulated
  19. }
  21. // NewPerson creates and returns a new Person object.
  22. // This is needed because the birthday field is not exported.
  23. // If it were exported, code in other packages could
  24. // directly create Person objects.
  25. func NewPerson(name string, birthday time.Time) Person {
  26. return Person{name, birthday}
  27. }
  29. // Age calculates and returns the age of a Person.
  30. func (p *Person) Age() int {
  31. todayY, todayM, todayD := time.Now().Date()
  32. birthdayY, birthdayM, birthdayD := p.birthday.Date()
  33. age := todayY - birthdayY
  34. // Subtract one if the birthday has not occurred yet this year.
  35. if todayM < birthdayM || (todayM == birthdayM && todayD < birthdayD) {
  36. age--
  37. }
  38. return age
  39. }
  41. // Birthday returns the value of the encapsulated field birthday.
  42. func (p *Person) Birthday() time.Time {
  43. return p.birthday
  44. }
  46. // FormattedBirthday returns the formatted birthday of a Person.
  47. func (p *Person) FormattedBirthday() string {
  48. return p.birthday.Format(dateFormat)
  49. }

Here is an application that uses the encapsulation package.

  1. package main
  3. import (
  4. "fmt"
  5. "time"
  7. "github.com/mvolkmann/encapsulation"
  8. )
  10. func main() {
  11. birthday := time.Date(1961, time.April, 16, 0, 0, 0, 0, time.UTC)
  12. me := encapsulation.NewPerson("Mark", birthday)
  13. fmt.Printf("%s was born on %s.\n", me.Name, me.FormattedBirthday())
  14. fmt.Printf("%s is %d years old.\n", me.Name, me.Age())
  15. }


Arrays hold an ordered collection of values, also known as elements, that all have the same type.

Values can be other arrays to create multidimensional arrays.

Arrays have a fixed length and the length is part of their type.

In some languages string[] represents an array of strings. In a GraphQL schema, this would be written as [string]. But Go chooses a third option, []string which was inspired by Algol 68.

The syntax for declaring an array is [length]type. The length must be a compile-time expression. For example, var rgb [3]int.

An array can be created with an "array literal". This uses curly braces to specify initial elements. For example, rgb := [5]int{100, 50, 234}. This creates an array with a length of five where only the first three elements are explicitly initialized. The remaining elements are initialized to their zero value.

To create an array whose length is the same as the number of supplied initial values, place an ellipsis inside the square brackets instead of a length. For example, rgb := [...]int{100, 50, 234}. This creates an array with a length of three.

An array can be created by specifying values at specific indexes. Values at unspecified indexes are given the zero value for the array element type. For example, names := [...]string{3: "Mark", 1: "Tami"} creates the array ["", "Tami", "", "Mark"]. The length is one more than the highest specified index.

If anything other than a single integer or ellipsis appears inside the square brackets, a "slice" is created. Slices are discussed in the next section.

Square brackets are also used to get and set the value at a zero-based index. To get the second element, rgb[1]. To set the second element, rgb[1] = 75. Attempting to get or set an element at an index beyond the end triggers a panic.

To get the length of an array, len(myArr).

For arrays, the capacity is the same as the length, so cap(myArr) returns the same value. We will see that this is not the case for slices.

One way to iterate over the elements of an array is to use a C-style for loop. For example:

  1. for index := 0; index < len(myArr); index++ {
  2. value := myArr[index]
  3. // Do something with value.
  4. }

The range keyword can be also used to iterate over the elements, and this is preferred. For example:

  1. for index, value := range myArr {
  2. // Do something with value, and possibly index.
  3. }

If index is not needed, the blank identifier _ can be used in its place.

  1. for _, value := range myArr {
  2. // Do something with value.
  3. }

When an array is passed as an argument to a function, a copy of the array is created. Changes the function makes to the array elements are not visible to the caller. To avoid copying and allow the caller to see changes, write functions to accept a pointer to an array rather than an array and pass pointers.


Slices are a distinct type from arrays. They are a variable length view into an array that has a fixed length.

Functions that take a slice parameter cannot be passed an array. Many functions prefer slices over arrays. Unless having a fixed length is important, use a slice instead of an array.

A slice is described by three components, a pointer to an array element, a current length, and a current capacity. The pointer can point to any element in the array. The length is number of array elements currently seen by the slice. The capacity is the number of array elements from the pointer to the end of the array. For example:

  1. arr := [...]string{"red", "orange", "yellow", "green", "blue", "purple"}
  2. sl := arr[2:5]

The slice sl currently points to the element "yellow" in arr because that is the element at index 2. It has a length of 3 (5 - 2) and can access the elements "yellow", "green", and "blue". It has a capacity of 4 because there is one more element in the array, "purple", that it cannot currently see.

A slice type is declared with nothing inside square brackets. For example, []int is a slice of int values that is not yet associated with an array.

There are three ways to create a slice.

  1. using a "slice literal"
  2. using the built-in make function
  3. basing on an existing array

The most common way to create a slice is with a slice literal which creates a slice and its underlying array. These look like an array literals, but without a specified length. mySlice := []int{} creates a slice with an empty underlying array where the length and capacity are 0. mySlice := []int{2, 4, 6} creates a slice where the length and capacity are 3, and contains the provided initial values.

It is also possible, but not common, to specify values at specific indexes. mySlice := []int{2: 6, 1: 4, 0: 2} is the same as the previous example. mySlice := []int{3: 7, 0: 2} creates a slice where the length and capacity are 4 which is one more than the highest specified index.

The make function provides another way to create a slice and underlying array. Rather than specifying initial values, the length and capacity are specified. This can avoid reallocating space if elements are appended later, which is somewhat inefficient. If it is anticipated that many elements will be appended later, try to estimate the largest size needed and use make to create the slice. For example, mySlice := make([]int, 5) creates an underlying array of size 5 and a slice with length 5 and capacity of 5. mySlice := make([]int, 0, 5) creates an underlying array of size 5 and a slice with length 0 and capacity of 5.

The final and least commonly used way to create a slice is to base it on an existing array, specifying the start (inclusive) and end (exclusive) indexes. For example, mySlice := myArr[start:end] If start is omitted, it defaults to 0. If end is omitted, it defaults to the array length. So myArr[:] creates a slice over the entire array.

Modifying elements of a slice modifies the underlying array.

Multiple slices on the same array see the same data. Utilizing this feature can be a common source errors since changing elements in one slice affects others.

The built-in append function takes a slice and returns a new slice containing additional elements. For example, mySlice = append(mySlice, 8, 10) appends the values 8 and 10. If the underlying array is too small to accommodate the new elements, a larger array is automatically allocated (doubling the current capacity after the length exceeds 4) and the returned slice will refer to it. It is not possible to append elements to arrays, which is one reason why slices are often preferred.

len(mySlice) returns the number of elements in the slice which is its current length.

cap(mySlice) returns the number of elements from the start index of the slice to the end of underlying array which is its current capacity.

Just like arrays, square brackets are used to get and set the value of a slice at a zero-based index. If the index is greater than or equal to the slice capacity, a panic will be triggered with the message "runtime error: index out of range".

The same approaches for iterating over the elements of an array can be used to iterate over the elements of a slice.

To change the view of a slice into its underlying array, recreate it with different bounds For example, mySlice = mySlice[newStart:newEnd]. This creates a slice that begins at newStart and ends just before newEnd.

Slice elements can be other slices to create multidimensional slices. For example:

  1. ticTacToe := [][]string{
  2. []string{" ", " ", " "},
  3. []string{" ", " ", " "},
  4. []string{" ", " ", " "}}
  5. // If the last } is placed on a new line then a
  6. // comma is required at the end of the previous line.
  7. }
  8. ticTacToe[1][2] = "X"

To use all the elements in a slice as separate arguments to a function follow the variable name holding the slice with an ellipsis. For example:

  1. // This is a "variadic function" that
  2. // takes any number of int arguments.
  3. func sum(numbers ...int) int {
  4. result := 0
  5. for _, number := range numbers {
  6. result += number
  7. }
  8. return result
  9. }
  11. func main() {
  12. fmt.Println(sum(1, 2, 3)) // 6
  13. values := []int{1, 2, 3}
  14. fmt.Println(sum(values...)) // 6
  15. }

Slices can contain values of any type. Here is an example that uses a slice of structs:

  1. type Person struct {
  2. name string
  3. age int8
  4. }
  6. func main() {
  7. // Note how we do not need to precede each struct with "Person".
  8. people := []Person{{"Mark", 57}, {"Jeremy", 31}}
  9. fmt.Printf("%+v\n", people) // [{name:Mark age:57} {name:Jeremy age:31}]
  10. }

A slice can be used to implement a stack.

  1. package main
  3. import "fmt"
  5. // IntStack is a stack of int values.
  6. type IntStack []int
  8. // Push adds an int to the end of the stack.
  9. func (s *IntStack) Push(value int) {
  10. *s = append(*s, value)
  11. }
  13. // Pop removes an int to the end of the stack and returns it.
  14. func (s *IntStack) Pop() int {
  15. stack := *s
  16. l := len(stack)
  17. top := stack[l-1]
  18. *s = stack[:l-1]
  19. return top
  20. }
  22. func main() {
  23. myStack := IntStack{1, 3, 5}
  24. fmt.Println(myStack.Pop()) // 5, now contains [1, 3]
  25. fmt.Println(myStack.Pop()) // 3, now contains [1]
  26. myStack.Push(7) // now contains [1, 7]
  27. myStack.Push(9) // now contains [1, 7, 9]
  28. fmt.Printf("myStack = %+v\n", myStack) // [1 7 9]
  29. }


A map is a collection of key/value pairs that provides efficient lookup of values by their key. The keys and values can have any type, but in a given map all the keys have the same type and all the values have the same type.

The syntax for a map type is map[keyType]valueType. For example, var myMap map[string]int.

A named type can be created for this type which is useful when it will be referred to in many places. For example, type PlayerScoreMap map[string]int.

One way to create a map is with a "map literal" which allows specifying initial key/value pairs. For example, scoreMap := map[string]int{"Mark": 90, "Tami": 92}, or using the named type above, scoreMap := PlayerScoreMap{"Mark": 90, "Tami": 92}.

Another way to create a map is to use the built-in make function. For example, scoreMap := make(map[string]int) or scoreMap := make(PlayerScoreMap).

To add a key/value pair, myMap[key] = value.

To get the value for a given key, value := myMap[key]. If the key is not present, the zero value for the value type is returned.

For example:

  1. type PlayerScoreMap map[string]int
  3. scoreMap := PlayerScoreMap{"Mark": 90, "Tami": 92}
  4. scoreMap["Amanda"] = 83
  5. scoreMap["Jeremy"] = 95
  7. myScore := scoreMap["Mark"]
  8. fmt.Println("my score =", myScore) // 90
  9. fmt.Printf("scoreMap = %+v\n", scoreMap) // map[Tami:92 Amanda:83 Jeremy:95 Mark:90]

To get the value for a given key and verify that the key was present, as opposed to getting the zero value because it isn't, capture the second return value which is a bool. For example:

  1. value, found := myMap[key]
  2. if found {
  3. // Do something with value.
  4. }


  1. if value, found := myMap[key]; found {
  2. // Do something with value.
  3. }

In maps where the values are numbers, the ++, --, and arithmetic assignment operators can be used to modify values. For example, scoreMap["Mark"]++ and scoreMap["Tami"] *= 2.

To delete a key/value pair, delete(myMap, key).

To iterate over the key/value pairs in a map, for key, value := range myMap { ... }. The order of iteration is not defined.

Maps support concurrent reads, but not concurrent writes or a concurrent read and write. If a map might be accessed concurrently from multiple goroutines, protect against this by using channels or mutexes. These will be described in the Concurrency article later in the series.


Go does not have a built-in data structure for representing sets which are unordered collections of unique values. However, a Map that uses bool values or empty structs for values can be used for this purpose.

Unlike bool values, empty structs do not take up memory. They are written as struct{}.

The following simple package defines a set data structure for strings.

  1. package set
  3. type empty struct{} // memory-efficient value for sets
  5. // Strings is a set of strings.
  6. type Strings map[string]empty
  8. // This value is used to mark a value as present in the set.
  9. var present = empty{}
  11. // Add adds a given value to the set.
  12. func (set Strings) Add(value string) {
  13. set[value] = present
  14. }
  16. // Contains determines if a given value is in the set.
  17. func (set Strings) Contains(value string) bool {
  18. _, ok := set[value]
  19. return ok
  20. }
  22. // Remove removes a given value from the set.
  23. func (set Strings) Remove(value string) {
  24. delete(set, value)
  25. }

Here's an example of using this "set" package.

  1. package main
  3. import (
  4. "fmt"
  6. "github.com/mvolkmann/set"
  7. )
  9. func main() {
  10. colorSet := set.Strings{}
  11. colorSet.Add("red")
  12. colorSet.Add("yellow")
  13. colorSet.Add("blue")
  14. colorSet.Remove("yellow")
  16. colors := []string{"red", "yellow", "blue"}
  17. for _, color := range colors {
  18. if colorSet.Contains(color) {
  19. fmt.Println("have", color) // prints "have red" and "have blue"
  20. }
  21. }
  23. fmt.Printf("%+v\n", colorSet) // map[red:{} yellow:{}]
  24. fmt.Println(len(colorSet)) // 2
  25. }

A recommended community library that supports many data structures is "gods" at https://github.com/emirpasic/gods. It implements several kinds of lists, sets, stacks, maps, and trees. These collections can hold values of any type, but using the values typically requires "type assertions" (described later).

Here is an example of using the gods.HashSet type to represent a set of int values.

  1. package main
  3. import (
  4. "fmt"
  6. "github.com/emirpasic/gods/sets/hashset"
  7. )
  9. func main() {
  10. set := hashset.New() // empty
  11. set.Add(1) // 1
  12. set.Add(2, 2, 3, 4, 5) // 3, 1, 2, 4, 5 (random order, duplicates ignored)
  13. set.Remove(4) // 5, 3, 2, 1
  14. set.Remove(2, 3) // 1, 5
  16. fmt.Println("contains 1?", set.Contains(1)) // true
  17. fmt.Println("contains 1 and 5?", set.Contains(1, 5)) // true
  18. fmt.Println("contains 1 and 6?", set.Contains(1, 6)) // false
  20. values := set.Values()
  21. fmt.Println("values =", values) // []int{5,1} (random order)
  22. fmt.Println("empty?", set.Empty()) // false
  23. fmt.Println("size =", set.Size()) // 2
  25. // Must use type assertions to operate on values.
  26. sum := 0
  27. for _, v := range values {
  28. sum += v.(int)
  29. }
  30. fmt.Println("sum =", sum) // 6
  32. set.Clear() // empty
  33. fmt.Println("empty?", set.Empty()) // true
  34. fmt.Println("size =", set.Size()) // 0
  35. }

Deferred Functions

Inside a function, function calls preceded by defer have their arguments evaluated immediately, but the function does not execute until the containing function exits.

All deferred calls are placed on a stack and executed in the reverse order from which they are evaluated.

A deferred function can change the values returned by a function by simply returning other values.

Deferred functions are typically used for resource cleanup that must occur regardless of the code path taken in the function. Examples include closing files, closing network connections, unlocking mutexes, and logging function results/exits.

This is an alternative to the try/finally syntax found in other languages.

Here is an example of using defer to log how long it takes for a function to execute:

  1. package main
  3. import (
  4. "fmt"
  5. "log"
  6. "time"
  7. )
  9. // Note that this returns a function.
  10. func startTimer(name string) func() {
  11. t := time.Now()
  12. return func() {
  13. delta := time.Now().Sub(t)
  14. log.Println(name, "took", delta)
  15. }
  16. }
  18. func doWork() int {
  19. sum := 0
  20. for i := 0; i < 100000000; i++ {
  21. sum += i
  22. }
  23. return sum
  24. }
  26. func main() {
  27. // Note that the syntax appears to call
  28. // the function returned by startTime immediately,
  29. // but it is not actually run until the main function exits.
  30. defer startTimer("doWork")()
  31. fmt.Println(doWork())
  32. }


Interface Basics

An interface defines a set of methods to be implemented by types. Any named type can implement an interface, even those whose underlying type is a primitive type.

A type can implement any number of interfaces.

Types do not state the interfaces they implement. They only need to implement all the methods of the interfaces they wish to implement.

Interface types are abstract, meaning that it is not possible to directly create instances of them. Instead, instances of types that implement an interface are created.

Variables and parameters with an interface type can hold any value whose type implements all the methods of the interface. When a value is assigned to such variables or passed to such parameters, if the actual type does not implement all the interface methods, a compile-time error is reported that identifies one of the missing methods.

The actual value of a variable or parameter with an interface type may support additional methods, but those cannot be called without using a type assertion which is described later.

Calling a method on a variable with an interface type calls the method on the underlying type. If a value has not be assigned to the variable, meaning it is nil, calling a method on it triggers a panic.

An interface is typically only used when more than one concrete type will implement it and there is a need to use values of the interface type in a way that works for all the concrete types.

Interface Example

In the example below, the interface type Shape is implemented by the concrete types Rectangle and Circle. This allows writing code that works with variables of type Shape without needing to know the concrete type.

  1. package main
  2. import "fmt"
  3. import "math"
  5. type Shape interface {
  6. Area() float64
  7. Name() string
  8. }
  10. type Rectangle struct {
  11. width, height float64
  12. }
  13. func (r Rectangle) Area() float64 {
  14. return r.width * r.height
  15. }
  16. func (r Rectangle) Name() string {
  17. return "rectangle"
  18. }
  20. type Circle struct {
  21. radius float64
  22. }
  23. func (c Circle) Area() float64 {
  24. return math.Pi * c.radius * c.radius
  25. }
  26. func (c Circle) Name() string {
  27. return "circle"
  28. }
  29. // Adding a method to the Circle type that is not in the Shape interface.
  30. func (c Circle) Diameter() float64 {
  31. return c.radius * 2
  32. }
  34. func printArea(g Shape) {
  35. fmt.Println("area =", g.Area())
  36. }
  38. func main() {
  39. r := Rectangle{width: 3, height: 4}
  40. c := Circle{radius: 5}
  41. var g Shape // g has an interface type and is not initialized.
  42. //printArea(g) // panic: runtime error: invalid memory address or nil pointer dereference
  43. g = r
  44. // The formatting verb %T outputs the type of the value
  45. // currently held in an interface variable.
  46. fmt.Printf("g currently holds a %T\n", g) // main.rectangle
  47. printArea(g) // area = 12
  48. g = c
  49. printArea(g) // area = 78.53981633974483
  51. // Since the shape interface doesn't define the diameter method,
  52. // a type assertion is required to call it.
  53. fmt.Println("diameter =", g.(Circle).Diameter()) // diameter = 10
  54. }

Compile Time Checks

A variable declaration can specify that the assigned value on the right must implement a given interface. This is checked at compile-time. For example:

  1. r := Rectangle{width: 3, height: 4} // no check performed
  2. var r Shape = Rectangle{width: 3, height: 4} // passes
  3. var r io.Reader = Rectangle{width: 3, height: 4} // fails with "does not implement"

Empty Interface

An interface with no methods, referred to as the "empty interface", matches every type. This includes pointers to specific types. It is written as interface{}.

The empty interface enables writing functions with parameters that accept any type. The standard library package fmt defines many functions such as Println and Printf that do this.

Think of using the interface{} type as opting into runtime type checking which introduces more opportunities for panics to occur.

To make this more clear, we could define the type any with type any interface{}. However, any would be a distinct type, not just an alias for interface{}. So it's best to just use interface{} when any type should be accepted.

To accept a pointer to any type, use interface{}, not *interface{}.

Type assertions must be used to operate on these values. These are described in the next section.

Using empty interfaces should be avoided when possible because they sacrifice compile-time type checking and open the possibility for more run-time errors.

Type Assertions

A "type assertion" verifies that the value of an interface variable refers to a specific type. If it does, the same value is returned, but with the asserted type. If it does not, a panic is triggered.

For example, consider myShape := g.(Circle). The asserted type Circle is a concrete type. If g does refer to a Circle then the type of myShape is Circle.

When the asserted type is an interface type, if the value of the variable implements the interface then the result has that interface type. This can be used to allow methods from the asserted interface to be called. For example, suppose we have a value in the variable someValue whose type implements multiple interfaces, one of which is Shape. The following code prints the name of the shape.

  1. myShape := someValue.(Shape);
  2. fmt.Println(myShape.Name)

Keep in mind that when running a program using go run, if there are compile errors, no type-assertion panics will not be triggered because the code won't begin running.

Type Tests

A "type test" determines whether an interface variable refers to a specific type. It differs from a type assertion in that an extra return value is captured and it does not panic if the value being tested does not match the asserted type.

For example, consider myShape, ok := g.(Circle). The variable ok will be set to true or false to indicate whether g refers to a Circle object.

Type assertions and type tests can be used with any type, even primitive types. For example, a function that has a parameter of type interface{} can test the actual type as follows:

  1. package main
  3. import (
  4. "fmt"
  5. "log"
  6. "strconv"
  7. )
  9. func makeString(value interface{}) string {
  10. if b, ok := value.(bool); ok {
  11. if b {
  12. return "true"
  13. }
  14. return "false"
  15. } else if i, ok := value.(int); ok {
  16. return strconv.Itoa(i) // converts an int to a string
  17. } else if _, ok := value.(float64); ok {
  18. return fmt.Sprintf("%f", value)
  19. } else if s, ok := value.(string); ok {
  20. return s
  21. } else {
  22. log.Fatalf("unsupported value %v of type %T", value, value)
  23. return "" // won't reach, but compiler wants this
  24. }
  25. }
  27. func main() {
  28. fmt.Println(makeString(false))
  29. fmt.Println(makeString(true))
  30. fmt.Println(makeString(7))
  31. fmt.Println(makeString(3.14))
  32. fmt.Println(makeString("test"))
  33. fmt.Println(makeString('x')) // unsupported value 120 of type int32
  34. }

A nicer way to write the makeString function is to use a "type switch" as follows:

  1. func makeString(value interface{}) string {
  2. // Note how the variable "value" is shadowed
  3. // with the result of the type assertion.
  4. switch value := value.(type) {
  5. case bool:
  6. if value {
  7. return "true"
  8. }
  9. return "false"
  10. case int:
  11. return strconv.Itoa(value)
  12. case float64:
  13. return fmt.Sprintf("%f", value)
  14. case string:
  15. return value
  16. default:
  17. log.Fatalf("unsupported value %v of type %T", value, value)
  18. return ""
  19. }
  20. }

Linked List Example

Here is an example of a custom collection that can hold values of any type. It is a basic linked list. Note how type assertions are required to use values that are obtained from the collection.

For a doubly linked list, see the standard library package container/list.

  1. package main
  3. import "fmt"
  5. // LinkedList implements a linked list with values of any type.
  6. type LinkedList struct {
  7. head *node
  8. }
  10. type node struct {
  11. value interface{}
  12. next *node
  13. }
  15. // Clear removes all nodes.
  16. func (listPtr *LinkedList) Clear() {
  17. listPtr.head = nil
  18. }
  20. // IsEmpty determines if the LinkedList is empty.
  21. func (listPtr *LinkedList) IsEmpty() bool {
  22. return listPtr.head == nil
  23. }
  25. // Pop removes the first node and returns its value.
  26. func (listPtr *LinkedList) Pop() interface{} {
  27. if listPtr.IsEmpty() {
  28. return nil
  29. }
  30. node := listPtr.head
  31. listPtr.head = node.next
  32. return node.value
  33. }
  35. // Push adds a node to the front.
  36. func (listPtr *LinkedList) Push(value interface{}) {
  37. node := node{value, listPtr.head}
  38. listPtr.head = &node
  39. }
  41. // Len returns the length of the LinkedList.
  42. func (listPtr *LinkedList) Len() int {
  43. len := 0
  44. node := listPtr.head
  45. for node != nil {
  46. len++
  47. node = node.next
  48. }
  49. return len
  50. }
  52. func main() {
  53. list := LinkedList{}
  54. list.Push(1)
  55. list.Push(3)
  56. list.Clear()
  57. list.Push(5)
  58. list.Push(7)
  60. sum := 0
  61. for !list.IsEmpty() {
  62. value := list.Pop()
  63. fmt.Println("value =", value) // 7 and 5
  64. sum += value.(int)
  65. }
  66. fmt.Println("sum =", sum) // 12
  67. }

Standard Library Interfaces

The standard library packages define many interfaces. For example, the fmt package defines the Stringer interface. It contains one method named String. Functions in many other packages check whether values implement this interface in order to convert values to strings.

Any type can choose to implement this interface by defining the String method. For example:

  1. type Person struct {
  2. Name string
  3. Age int8
  4. }
  6. // Note that the receiver is a Person struct, not a pointer to one.
  7. func (p Person) String() string {
  8. return fmt.Sprintf("%v is %v years old.", p.Name, p.Age)
  9. }
  11. me := Person{"Mark", 57}
  12. fmt.Println(me) // Mark is 57 years old.

Examples of other commonly used interfaces defined in the standard library include io.Reader and io.Writer. Implementations of these interfaces read from and write to many things including files, network connections, in-memory buffers, and more.

The io.Reader interface defines a Read method that takes a byte slice to hold the data read. It returns the number of bytes read and an error description.

The io.Writer interface defines a Write method that takes a byte slice containing the data to be written. It returns the number of bytes written and an error description.

Nested Interfaces

Interfaces can be nested to add the methods of one interface to another. For example:

  1. package main
  3. type Shape2d interface {
  4. area() float64
  5. }
  7. type Shape3d interface {
  8. Shape2d // Shape3d objects also support Shape2d methods
  9. volume() float64
  10. }
  12. type Box struct {
  13. d float64
  14. h float64
  15. w float64
  16. }
  18. // Implements Shape2d interface.
  19. // Accepting a pointer so a copy is not made.
  20. func (b *Box) area() float64 {
  21. return b.w * b.h
  22. }
  24. // Implements Shape3d interface.
  25. func (b *Box) volume() float64 {
  26. return b.area() * b.d
  27. }
  29. func main() {
  30. myBox := Box{d: 2, h: 3, w: 4}
  31. fmt.Println("area =", myBox.area()) // 12
  32. fmt.Println("volume =", myBox.volume()) // 24
  33. }

Error Handling

Go does not support exceptions and thus has no try, catch, or finally keywords. Instead functions that may encounter errors have an additional return value of type error that callers should check. When there is no error, this return value is nil.

The type error is a built-in interface with a single method Error that takes no arguments and returns a string description of the error.

Go prefers this error handling approach over using exceptions. One reason is that it requires handling errors as they occur rather than grouping a happy path of statements in a try block and handling errors with catch blocks at the end. Another reason is that exception handling typically allows a program to terminate with a stack trace when an unhandled error occurs.

The standard library creates and exports many instances of this interface. It is also possible to define custom implementations of the error interface that hold additional data describing the error.

Creating Error Values

The errors package defines a New function that creates error instances from a string. For example:

  1. package main
  2. import (
  3. "errors"
  4. "fmt"
  5. )
  7. func divide(a, b float64) (float64, error) {
  8. if b == 0 {
  9. return 0, errors.New("divide by zero")
  10. }
  11. return a / b, nil // no error
  12. }
  14. func main() {
  15. q, err := divide(7, 0)
  16. if err != nil {
  17. log.Fatal(err)
  18. }
  19. fmt.Println(q)
  20. }

Another way to create an error value is to use the fmt.Errorf function. It works like fmt.Sprintf to format an error message. The line in the divide function above that creates and returns an error can be replaced by return 0, fmt.Errorf("divide %d by zero", a). This differs in that the error message includes the number that would have been divided by zero.

When an error is returned, typically the other return values are not be expected to be usable values.

Custom Error Types

Sometimes it is useful for an error to hold more data than just a message. This allows callers of functions that return errors to access additional details.

Here is an example of defining a custom error type, DivideByZero, that holds an error message and the numerator value.

  1. type DivideByZero struct {
  2. numerator float64
  3. }
  5. // This makes the DivideByZero type implement the error interface.
  6. func (err DivideByZero) Error() string {
  7. return fmt.Sprintf("tried to divide %f by zero", err.numerator)
  8. }
  10. func divide2(a, b float64) (float64, error) {
  11. if b == 0 {
  12. return 0, DivideByZero{a}
  13. }
  14. return a / b, nil // no error
  15. }

It is a convention in Go to handle error conditions before success. This allows "mainline code" that follows to appear un-indented. For example, instead of:

  1. result, err := someFunction()
  2. if err == nil {
  3. // Do something with result.
  4. } else {
  5. // Handle errors
  6. }

The following is preferred:

  1. result, err := someFunction()
  2. if err != nil {
  3. // Handle errors
  4. return
  5. }
  6. // Do something with result.


A panic is a runtime error that typically causes the application to exit with exit status of 2, an error message, and a stack trace. Before exiting, the panic proceeds up the call stack and any deferred functions that have been queued by functions in the call stack are executed.

The built-in panic function can be called to manually trigger a panic. Typically this should only be used when an error occurs that callers are not expected to handle. For expected errors, functions should return an extra error return value, that callers can check.

The panic function can be passed any value, but typically it is an error message. For example, panic("not happy").

Functions that call panic for some code paths often have names that start with Must to indicate this possibility.

Another way to output a stack trace is to import the runtime/debug package and call debug.PrintStack().

In some circumstances when a panic occurs it is useful to perform some cleanup before the application exits or even prevent the application from exiting. For example, a web server could choose to never exit regardless of the errors that may occur.

The built-in recover function can be called within a deferred function for either of these reasons. It returns the value passed to the panic function.

If recovery is not possible, the deferred function can call the panic function, passing it the same value. This allows other deferred functions higher in the call stack to recover from the error.

If recovery is possible, check the value returned by the recover function. If it is not nil, return the values to be used as the return values of the function that panicked. After this deferred function completes, the function that panicked does not continue at the statement after the panic. Instead it returns to its caller using these return values.

Recovering from a panic originating in another package is not recommended.

It is only possible to recover from panics that were initiated in the same goroutine.

The following simple example demonstrate using panic and recover. However, expected errors such as dividing by zero should not be handled using panic and recover.

  1. package main
  3. import "fmt"
  5. func mustDivide(m, n float64) float64 {
  6. if n == 0 {
  7. panic(fmt.Sprintf("cannot divide %f by zero", m))
  8. }
  9. return m / n
  10. }
  12. // It is important for this function have a named return type
  13. // so its deferred function can set it.
  14. // Alternatively, if this function had a named return type
  15. // of type of error, the deferred function could set that.
  16. func divideWithRecover(m, n float64) (result float64) {
  17. defer func() {
  18. message := recover() // nil when there was no panic
  19. if message != nil {
  20. fmt.Printf("%s; recovering\n", message)
  21. result = 0 // result for all divide by zero calls
  22. }
  23. }()
  24. return mustDivide(m, n)
  25. }
  27. func main() {
  28. fmt.Println(divideWithRecover(7, 2)) // 3.5
  29. fmt.Println(divideWithRecover(7, 0)) // 0
  30. }

Look for additional articles in this series early in 2019 at https://objectcomputing.com/resources/publications/sett. Next up will be a review of the Go standard library.

Thanks to Charles Sharp for his detailed review of this article!

Software Engineering Tech Trends (SETT) is a regular publication featuring emerging trends in software engineering.